I decided to break the news over a bottle of wine; there is no need to be uncivil about these things, after all. Amber, I imagined myself saying, I loved you for twenty two years but I no longer do and I think it would be best for us to go our separate ways. I had quite a good sense of her response – one does not marry for two decades without learning to finish the others’ sentences. There would be tears, accusations and then, finally, a cold and resolute acceptance which would hurt more than her anger.
When she came home that evening, saw the candelight, smelt the perfumed air and saw the wine upon the table, a smile ghosted her lips. Those same lips brushed mine and then she looked me up and down and said,
“So, you’re going to tell me? I am glad you’re finally a man.” She uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. She passed one to me. “But I have to tell you something, too. We can’t have a divorce.” She watched me over the rim of her glass, grey eyes serious. “I’m sorry.”
I blinked. No tears. No accusations. Only a cold and resolute…what, acceptance? No, reprimand. I felt like a schoolchild held back for detention.
“Why?” was all I could manage.
“First, let me ask some questions,” she said. She sat and looked up at me. I found it ridiculous that I towered over her yet her gaze made me feel no bigger than an insect. “My first question is a little cliché but then again, you have caught me a little off guard.”
“It doesn’t seem like it,” I said bitterly.
“I wasn’t expecting the wine,” she explained. “Nice touch. So, forgive me for the cliché – who is she?”
“The other woman,”
“There isn’t another woman.”
She considered, swirling the wine in the glass.
“Is there another someone for you?” I remembered her earlier comment and found myself unable to say the word ‘man.’
“You aren’t playing by the rules,” she said and not unkindly either. “Please, let me ask the questions first.”
I raised my hands in defeat and she looked pleased.
“Okay,” she said. “Second question – the exact moment?”
I told her and she laughed, a full-bellied laugh, leaning her elbows against the table top and throwing her head back so that her thick hair pooled about her waist.
“Strange man!” she said. “So I will know not to eat Cheerios in the future!”
She stopped laughing as suddenly as she’d started. “Why no other woman?”
I shrugged. I remembered I still had a glass of wine in my hand and took a sip, avoiding her gaze.
“Is that your final question?” I asked eventually.
“Is that your final answer?” she returned, “Because it is dull and I will not answer yours if so.”
I shrugged again.
“Come on,” she said. “Another woman suggests that you have at least some remnant of passion in your life. I want that for you. You should want that for me also. So?”
“There would be no point,” I admitted. “I’m not after…that.”
“No one would do it better, you mean,” she said gently. “Okay, and now I will tell you why we can’t get divorced. Quite simply, we were never married.”
I stared at my wife, my lips trembling a little. I was ready to burst into laughter at the slightest sign of a joke but she didn’t laugh. I began to hate her for being so serious, for taking this so well, for turning the tables, as it were.
I walked over to the window and looked out. We live in a quiet neighbourhood, a ten minute walk from the seafront. It was dark now, so that you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the horizon began. Streetlights dotted the path up to our road and I stared at them until bright lights danced across my vision.
“Are you going to make me ask?” I said.
I could almost hear the shrug in her voice.
“What the fuck do you mean never married?” I said.
“Don’t swear at me,” she said, rising and crossing the small distance between us. “You never did, don’t start now.”
I downed the rest of the wine. I couldn’t look at her.
“Oh fuck you Amber.”
“Fuck you back, Nicholas.”
I swiveled. I’d never heard her swear before. She stood close, her eyes like fire and danger emanating from her in waves. She leaned in so close her lips almost brushed mine. She touched a hand to my arm and we stood like that for a moment, dangling on something more fragile than a single strand in a spider’s web.
“I watched you walk down that aisle, didn’t I? I said the vows. I gave you the ring. I kissed you on our wedding day before our family and friends.” My voice was steady but my eyes watered. I couldn’t help it. “How can you tell me we weren’t married?”
To her credit, Amber tells me.